In baseball's showcase game, count on Bonds to steal the show

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 12, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He's F. Robby in '66, Reggie in '77, Rickey in '89. Actually, Barry Bonds is doing them all one better. No player changing teams has ever had as great an impact, and this season is only half over.

You watch: Bonds will define this All-Star Game. Hit the warehouse? Maybe. Drive in the winning run? More likely. This is his year -- no, his decade. He's going to do something, something special, something magical, something wild.

Bonds is having such a spectacular season, his play is overshadowing his abrasive personality, a major accomplishment in itself. No one talks about his $43.75 million contract anymore -- except to say he's worth every penny.

He's the Michael Jordan of baseball, a player transforming an ordinary team into a monster. A year ago, the San Francisco Giants finished 72-90, 26 games behind Atlanta in the NL West. Now they're 59-30, nine games in front of the Braves.

The reason is Bonds.

At this rate, the Giants will win 107 games. The 35-game improvement would be the greatest one-season turnaround in major-league history. A new manager, a new owner, four other legitimate All-Stars -- all these things help. But not like Bonds.

He's fourth in the NL with a .348 batting average, first with 24 homers, first with 71 RBI. A Triple Crown is possible. A third MVP award in four years is likely. And if the Giants win the division, maybe he'll finally turn into Mr. October.

That would be the ultimate test for Bonds, at least in the comparisons with F. Robby, Reggie and Rickey. All three led their new teams to World Series titles. The difference is, all three joined clubs far superior to the Giants.

The Orioles finished third with 94 wins the year before they traded for Robinson. The New York Yankees won 97 games and the AL title the year before they signed Jackson. And the Oakland A's won 104 games and the AL title the year before they made a midseason trade for Henderson.

Why, not even Babe Ruth made the same splash as Bonds. The Yankees finished third after acquiring him from Boston in 1920. Of course, that was no fault of the Babe, who hit .376 with 54 homers and 137 RBI.

"They haven't won it yet, but if they do, I would put more significance on his influence," Robinson said. "I don't think he's contributed more than Reggie or I did. But with that ballclub, it's more significant because of the talent surrounding him.

"Will Clark got off to a poor start. Now Matt Williams has come on, and Willie McGee is playing the way he used to play. And how about that pitching? The runs go up on the board, and they say, "Wow, all we've got to do is hold them down, and we'll be all right.' "

The pitchers also can take comfort that with Bonds behind them, there's no such a thing as a double down the left-field line. The two leading winners, John Burkett (13-3) and Bill Swift (11-5), already have matched their victory totals from 1992.

Think Brady Anderson plays a mean left field? Wait until you see Bonds. For all the fuss over his postseason numbers (.191, three RBI in 68 at-bats), few recall that he nearly threw out Sid Bream at the plate in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.

One player can't win a pennant, but one player can sure help. Just ask Williams. His RBI totals declined from 122 to 98 to 66 the previous three seasons. Now, with Bonds batting behind him, he's fourth in the NL with 64 RBI -- despite being out with an injury since June 28.

The 1993 Elias Baseball Analyst estimates that a typical star player is worth about five wins per season to his team, and that Bonds' value during Pittsburgh's three-year title run was roughly double that. Yet, a mere statistical analysis can't quantify Bonds' worth to the Giants.

How do you measure the psychological impact of a player who makes his teammates believe they can win? Bonds did just that in the Giants' first meeting with Atlanta. It was in mid-April, 10 games into the season. The Giants won three of four. Just like that, they were contenders.

Bonds crushed a three-run homer off Greg Maddux in the first inning of the first game. Hit an opposite-field double and scored the only run of the second. Sparked a four-run, ninth-inning comeback against Mike Stanton -- one of the game's top left-handed relievers -- in the finale.

He was 9-for-14 with eight RBI in the series, and now the Giants own the best record in the majors. Bonds arrives at Camden Yards as the biggest star in the game. He's going to do something, either in the home-run hitting contest today, or the All-Star Game tomorrow.

He's the straw that stirs the drink.

And sips it all himself.

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